For ’80s nostalgia hounds, it’s hard to imagine a better team to helm a sequel to 1987’s Predator than writer/director Shane Black and co-writer Fred Dekker, re-teaming for the first time since that same year’s kids monster-action-comedy The Monster Squad. And let’s face facts — Monster Squad was too much of an influence on my early cinematic development for me to ever legitimately pan The Predator, a film that plays like a direct extension, not only of those two films, but of the era which produced them. It may not be the smartest movie out there, but Black and Dekker’s take is true to the spirit of the original in function if not always in form.
If John McTiernan’s Predator was a steroid-addled tale of alien sport hunters going up against the burly machismo of ’80s dream team Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura, Black and Dekker focus on a slightly less superhuman band of misfits befitting their modern setting. Rather than a highly trained team of black-ops commandos, Black’s The Predator follows a band of damaged vets with problems ranging from PTSD-induced suicidal ideation to a bad case of Tourettes. These self-appellated “Loonies,” including Keegan Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen and Trevante Rhodes cross paths with the Predator by way of a convoluted series of first-act plot developments set off by an inciting incident that sees Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) sending some stolen Predator tech to his Autism-spectrum son Rory (Jacob Tremblay). Hijinks ensue — gory, gory hijinks.
This also brings The Loonies into contact with token female Olivia Munn, a scientist with a knack for winding up partially clothed (because, of course she does). The plot’s not really the point here, although there is one — a new breed of Super Predator hunting a defecting Predator while also trying to harvest human genes, or some such nonsense. But hey! This one’s got Predator dogs! That’s pretty cool, right?
Black and Dekker are at their best when they deal with dialogue exchanges and humor, but their obvious affinity for horror serves the film well. A scene in which Munn plays Snow White to The Loonies’ Seven (ok, Five) Dwarves is a good indication of the juvenile sensibilities of the film’s comedy, while a sequence in which a prominent character is disemboweled in closeup provides the bloody counterpoint. It’s a self-aware throwback to the hard-R blockbusters of yesteryear, tongue planted firmly in cheek while still honoring its antecedents with a straight face.
The Predator is not a great film, in and of itself — but it would be a great Predator sequel were it to have come out 30 years earlier, and it’ll be a great late-night watch on streaming services once it gets there. It sets up the requisite sequel, although that’s unlikely given its box office performance at home and abroad — taking top domestic doesn’t count for much in the second week of September, after all. But whatever happens to Black and Dekker’s The Predator, my only regret is that I wish I could have seen the VHS box art in a Blockbuster three decades ago.